Thinking about your luggage and what to pack is part of planning for an enjoyable trip. It’s best not to leave it until the last minute. Here are some ideas on how to pack for Japan, and how to deal with your luggage while you’re there.
The first step in packing for Japan is to choose luggage that you can manoeuvre by yourself. Not all train stations have lifts and in those that do, the lifts may be hard to find. Sometimes you will end up carrying luggage up flights of stairs. It can also be awkward carrying large luggage on crowded subways.
Preferences on type of luggage vary, with some people preferring wheeled suitcases, while others like backpacks. If you choose a backpack, either carry it or wear it facing forward in confined spaces to avoid accidentally knocking people, even if it’s a small one. If you choose wheeled luggage, the 4-wheeled variety is better than the 2-wheeled variety, as it can be wheeled close to your side so it doesn’t get in the way of others.
While inter-city trains and buses have space for luggage, large suitcases are difficult or impossible to fit in the allotted space. It’s best to keep to a medium sized suitcase, or be prepared to pay for luggage forwarding services.
Apart from the airport express trains, there are no dedicated luggage areas on Japanese trains. There is an overhead luggage rack which will take a medium-sized case and, particularly on the shinkansen, there is plenty of legroom at the seat which can also be used for luggage. There is some space behind the last row in each car which can be used for large cases (30” or so). This space can fill quickly.
Buses vary in their luggage carrying capacity. Some have a luggage hold underneath, capable of holding quite large luggage. Others have luggage racks on board which take small luggage only. It’s worth checking luggage requirements beforehand.
You may want to consider using luggage delivery to free yourself from carrying larger luggage between cities. The service can also be used to send luggage to your departure airport.
If you’re staying at a hotel, the staff will organise this for you and complete the paperwork. Otherwise you can drop your bags at one of the luggage forwarding company’s collection points. These are often convenience stores, and you can check the company website to find the nearest one. The luggage arrives the day following sending, so you need to travel with a small bag containing essentials for one day. It can make travel a lot more comfortable and stress-free, not having to manoeuvre large bags around busy stations.
Although your accommodation is generally able to organise luggage transfer, the following links will help in situations where you need to do it yourself.
Some hotels won’t accept forwarded luggage until the actual arrival day, so specify the arrival date in the delivery details. For transfer to an airport, luggage needs to be sent two days prior to departure.
Hotels will hold luggage for you at reception prior to check in or after check out. This works well if you’re arriving in a city before check in time and want to store your luggage while you go sightseeing.
Some accommodation such as AirBnBs and small guesthouses might not hold luggage for you. In this case, use luggage lockers at a railway or bus station and collect it when it is time to check in.
Lockers take 100 yen coins or sometimes IC cards (Suica, Pasmo, ICOCA etc). Cost is anywhere between 300 and 700 yen per day, depending on the size of the locker. There are usually instructions in English, or diagrams showing how to operate the lockers. In larger stations particularly, you may want take a photo of the locker and its surroundings to remind yourself where it is.
What to pack
Comfortable footwear is the most important item to pack. If you’re sightseeing or shopping, you may be doing a lot of walking and comfortable shoes will make your trip easier and more enjoyable.
In Japan it is customary to remove shoes in many indoor spaces. This includes temples and shrines, traditional restaurants, ryokans, and store changing rooms. Shoes that slip off easily or have zips or Velcro rather than laces are easier to deal with in these situations. Socks that are clean and have no holes look better when you have removed your shoes.
Unless you are in Japan for business, casual clothing including jeans, shorts and trainers will be fine, provided the items are neat and clean. Low-necked or strappy tops that expose cleavage can be considered too revealing, and you may wish to avoid wearing these.
The climate varies widely from north to south and between seasons. Check the day and night temperatures for the places you’ll be visiting to ensure you pack clothing suitable for the season. If you have a folding umbrella, it can be useful to take it with you if you are travelling during the rainy season. At other times of the year, you will find umbrellas readily available in convenience stores if it unexpectedly rains.
Japanese hotels supply hair shampoo, conditioner, disposable razors, toothpaste and sometimes other toiletries as well. If your hair requires a particular type of shampoo to be manageable, by all means bring it, but the hotel products are generally of reasonable quality which helps minimise packing. You can easily buy common international brands in Japan if you run out. One item that it is advisable to bring in adequate quantities is deodorant, as the formulation in Japan is different and not always effective for non-Japanese.
Pyjamas or a nightshirt are also often supplied, and this is generally noted in the room details on the hotel or booking website. If you are a taller or larger person, these may be too small, but for many people this is another way of reducing the clothing they need to bring.
Take a sufficient supply of any necessary medications to cover your stay in Japan. If you run out and the medication requires a prescription, you will need to visit a doctor in Japan to get a new supply.
I recommend not bringing a hair dryer or styling irons, as the difference in voltage means these appliances may not work effectively, or even worse, you may damage them. Japanese hotels supply hairdryers.
Most Japanese business hotels and hostels have a guest laundry which may be free or a modest cost (200-500 yen), so you can pack fewer clothes if you do laundry every few days. Keeping a small supply of 100 yen coins is useful for when you need to do laundry. Detergent is usually supplied, or you can buy it at reception or a nearby convenience store.
Do you have any questions about luggage and packing for Japan? Please feel free to contact me.
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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, with other ebook stores to come soon.